On Thursday morning, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League announced its decision to put the 2020-21 season on hold for seven weeks, following the provincial government’s ruling to have all of Manitoba enter a restricted ‘Code Red’ zone effective Thursday, November 12.
In ‘Code Red’, people within the province of Manitoba are unable to socialize in person, while a host of sweeping changes to every day life have been implemented, including minimal occupancy maximums at grocery stores, pharmacies and the shutdown of all non-essential businesses etc.
“The tentative date planned for hockey activities to resume is Friday, January 1, 2021 which would be dependent upon public health guidance as outlined in the #RestartMB Pandemic COVID-19 Response System,” read a statement released by the MJHL on Thursday morning. “Thank you for your continued support and understanding as the MJHL along with entire province of Manitoba works through this challenging time. Please stay tuned for upcoming schedule announcements in the coming weeks.”
Up until this point the MJHL had been operating on a ‘play until the government shuts you down’ basis. This saw the three teams making up the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region (Winnipeg Blues, Winnipeg Freeze, Selkirk Steelers) first enter lockdown on Monday, November 2. This past week, the Southern Health-Santé Sud Region also joined the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region in ‘Code Red’, meaning that another three league teams would be unable to play, practice or participate in any hockey activity. Joining the Steelers, Blues and Freeze were the Winkler Flyers, the Steinbach Pistons and the Portage Terriers, thus bringing the number of inactive teams to a total of six.
Left alive within the six-team MJHL were the five teams within the Prairie Mountain Health Region: Neepawa Natives, Virden Oil Capitals, Waywayseecappo Wolverines, Dauphin Kings, and Swan Valley Stampeders, as well as the one team belonging to Manitoba’s Northern Health Region: OCN Blizzard. That changed on Thursday with the league’s latest announcement.
What the MJHL did not touch on in its Thursday release was what sort of discipline it will hand out to 50 Below Sports + Entertainment – the owner of both the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze, which had booked practices at Warren Arena for this entire week, against all public health orders. The two teams skated in Warren on Monday under the name ‘Laker Academy’, as a way of disguising the ice rental to the public. 50 Below staff member Rhys van Kemenade doubles as Warren Arena President, which helped provide the teams with the ‘no questions asked’ booking.
Putting this information into perspective is the fact that Hockey Manitoba shut all minor hockey activity within the affected ‘Code Red’ zones down on November 2, with most leagues and teams actually halting play as early as October 29. In comparison, the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League put its season on pause on Friday, October 30. The Keystone Junior Hockey League made an announcement on October 27 that its season start date would be pushed back to December. The Capital Region Junior Hockey League announced a league-wide pause beginning November 2.